King of War

by • November 26, 2011 • Best ofComments (4)373

Choose wars based on strengths & battles based on weaknesses

If you’re starting a company from scratch, you may as well pick one which plays to your strengths, expertise, and connections. Find a war in which you’ll have an edge.

But once you’ve taken the leap, I think it’s advisable to flip that on its head and begin playing to your weaknesses.

You’re meant to validate the riskiest part of your business first, right? But how do you know what that is?

Since startups are made of people, it’s a reasonable rule of thumb to assume that the riskiest part of the company is going to be what you, personally, as an individual, are worst at[1].

If you have no knowledge of your customer segment’s workflow, then that is the riskiest part of your business. If you have no idea how business models in your industry function, then basic research becomes task #1. If you’ve never coded something like this before, then a working technical prototype is probably your top priority.

If you have no idea how the channel is going to work, then start today. Write a blog. Find a way to get on stage and give some talks. Hustle to set up some customer development meetings as a proxy for building a sales pipeline.

You don’t need to spend months to reduce a risk to sane levels — part of the art of entrepreneurship is choosing the right tool for the job and knowing when’s good enough.

You can’t do everything simultaneously, which means you have to start somewhere. Sometimes you can deal with problems in parallel, which is a bonus. But it doesn’t give you an excuse to avoid fighting the risky battles early.

[1] I am condensing founding teams into a single conceptual person. Assuming you have the stereotypical qualities of a founding team–like spending all day together and completely trusting each other’s judgement–I think it’s a reasonable shorthand… the opposite of the “royal we”

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4 Responses to Choose wars based on strengths & battles based on weaknesses

  1. Tom Launder says:

    Excellent insight –> “the riskiest part of the company is going to be what you, personally, as an individual, are worst at.”

    As an entrepreneur, sounds like you should do an individual SWOT. I’ve heard something similar with the statement “staff to your weaknesses”.

  2. Jeff McNeill says:

    This assumes that the riskiest part of a business is in the founders, rather than the market, or the product. This is generally incorrect. Psychologizing startups is misleading. But people like to naval-gaze rather than get a better understanding of the big picture.

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  4. [...] If you’re on a sinking boat, it’s probably wiser to start swimming than to try learning ship repair. But if you’re heading toward a career on the sea, working toward this long-term skill might make good sense. If you’ve got a fight next week, forget the head kicks. If fighting is going to be a constant throughout life, then get to practicing. It’s like the inverse of choosing wars based on strengths and battles based on weaknesses. [...]